Ireland is forging ahead in its bid to be a world leading ecommerce hub, and will not wait for the forthcoming EU directive on digital signatures.
"Ireland plans to be the first mover," said deputy Irish prime minister Mary Harney, speaking at the third annual conference of the International Commerce Exchange (ICX) in Dublin this week.
"We don't want to wait. Time and time again Europe has developed technologies it didn't exploit. We must make sure this doesn't happen in ecommerce," said Harney.
She said she was concerned that 80 per cent of electronic business is currently done in the US.
Harney said the Irish government was acting on two fronts. Firstly, it has created a public/private partnership for infrastructure, and secondly, it is creating the right legal and administrative regime for electronic business to thrive.
"The Irish government is very, very advanced, in implementing a public/private partnership for infrastructure, and is currently in detailed negotiations with a number of private international organisations," said Niall O'Donnchu, principal officer of the communications development division of the Department of Public Enterprise.
O'Donnchu said a bill on the formation of a digital terrestrial television infrastructure would be published in the next couple of weeks to complement the existing infrastructure. The sale of CableLink (owned by two state companies), which will provide Ireland with another competitive access mechanism via an enhanced cable network, is also virtually completed.
"We recognise there's a major prize here and we need to move quickly to catch up with the US," O'Donnchu said.
He said a "supple, flexible, light regulatory touch" was called for. An Irish government directive published last November, which is currently being read by an internal market working group, will allow companies to chose any strong cryptography method, which would not be subject to any regulatory controls, provided its use is lawful.
"There are three words that sum up our position in Ireland. No key escrow," said O'Donnchu.
The directive also covers parity of electronic signatures, electronic writing and electronic contracts with their handwritten equivalents, and their admissability in legal proceedings. The government said however, that it will look to industry to provide a regulatory code of practice. "We don't want to produce a bureaucratic nightmare," O'Donnchu said.
The government hopes to have a bill drafted by September and published in October. "If it's not on the statute books by the end of this year, it certainly will be by the beginning of next year," O'Donnchu said.
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